As an undercover writer, Flora Collins knows which one she’s talking about.
Tuesday’s release of “A Small Affair,” a HarperCollins page-turner, is a testament to that. Part of a two-book deal with the publisher, this follows Collins’ debut “Nanny Dearest,” based in New York City. Collins thought of writing another psychological thriller, the initial inspiration for “A Small Case” came from a 2018 documentary about the Chris Watts case. Collins said Watts killed his pregnant wife and two daughters “in part to be with his mistress, who he doesn’t remember.” (He is serving a life sentence for the crimes after pleading guilty.)
In the year “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I wonder what it would be like to be her,'” she recalled watching the true crime film in 2020. She had no idea what had happened. She seems to have forgotten that he is still married and takes care of the children.
The documentary served as a springboard and was only watched once.
On most days, Collins works at her primary job at a tech startup, writing blogs for the marketing department and maintaining the company’s LinkedIn page Monday through Thursday. Sat down to write on Friday. After a morning workout, a little procrastination, and maybe some meditation, Collins hit the keyboard after realizing she wanted to write. Before charging the laptop, she hid her phone and poured out at least 2,500 words — 10 pages or more — in her Brooklyn Heights apartment or at a nearby coffee shop.
In reference to Nora Ephron’s saying that “everything is copy,” the protagonist in “A Small Matter” holds a critical social media and marketing role at a New York-based consumer-to-consumer fashion brand. A loving start.
Collins’ mother, Amy Finn Collins, has long been a respected fashion industry insider and now helps curate the “World’s Best Dressed List.” Flora Collins describes both the fashion scene and her New York City-based tech start-up in “small matter,” and she does so with a looseness of knowledge.
“I asked my mother a lot for advice or research about Vera’s work in the book. And [with] The technology thing, I wouldn’t say that’s inspired by my work. I know a lot of people who work in tech or have worked in tech. Access is a typical millennial job,” she says.
There is an early element in the storyline where Collins teases how the main characters are mirrors of themselves, or more specifically, their best selves. It is no accident that it appears on the surface. “These Brooklyn one percenters are kidding. I live in Brooklyn Heights so I’m always watching. I’m always thinking and seeing. It makes me shy. [laughs]. But I write embarrassing books,” she said.
While online dating and social media are threads that run through the book, Collins says she’s not trying to impart any lessons. “I have a lot of experience with Instagram and online dating…I think too much of a good thing can be bad. But I’m not trying to make any moral statements about anyone’s use of those apps. There are certainly parallels and dangers. I would never say ‘don’t use’ or ‘don’t use Instagram.’ Because I love these things. I’m not a hypocrite that way.
Readers will learn how fashion is an art form that requires deep thinking. Collins added, “There’s also gatekeeping that works in fashion more than any other industry. I don’t want to spoil my book, but this becomes more obvious as you get further into the book.
Another starting point is that the person whose name is on the label is not always the individual who makes things happen for the brand. “This is very true. As with any industry, there are many people working behind the scenes to make things happen. That’s often forgotten… staying in the background and moving the puppet strings is in some ways more powerful than putting your name on the door,” she said.
There won’t be an Instagram campaign for the book’s launch Tuesday, but Collins likes to retweet rave reviews and DMs with authors like Hannah Marie McKinnon, Emily Froude and Clemence Michalon. Collins attended Chapin and later graduated from Vassar College and has been big on storytelling and reading for many years — writing has always been her “shit,” she said.
The lack of support from her parents is also a plus. “The more you sweat, the more skin you get. I wrote a manuscript that didn’t sell to publishers. He died bought, as they say,” Collins explained. “That was a great learning experience. After that I was able to write ‘Nanny Dearest.’
The writer, whose backers include inkwell agent Stephen Barbara, is currently YA author E. Reading books by Lockhart, Megan Abbott, and many other entertainment specialists. “I would say I read almost everything in my genre. Reading is something I love. I learn a lot from reading other thrillers. Sometimes I get out of that category, but for the most part that’s what I enjoy,” Collins said.
Very social, she spends almost every night of the week, having dinner with friends, going to parties, meeting new people and taking in some art and culture. A hundred pages into her next book, Not Under Contract, Collins is plotting around an all-girls private school.
As for the inevitable-in-any-autobiography question, Collins says, “Absolutely not,” in “Small Matter.” She added, “It’s easier for me to set books in New York because I grew up in New York. But I wouldn’t say I’m one of my characters. There may be elements of me in some of them. But no one is a substitute for me.”